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Mahatma always had time as a grandfather: Ela Gandhi

Tuesday January 11, 2011 08:44:12 PM, Madhusree Chatterjee, IANS

New Delhi: Just like Mahatma Gandhi always shared stories with her, grownups must take time out to listen to their children seriously, says the iconic leader's granddaughter Ela Gandhi who lives in South Africa and wants to revive the community settlement, Tolstoy Farm, as a Gandhian retreat.

"The most abiding and talked about memory that I share of my interactions with my grandfather is a story of the pumpkin. A lot of little such incidents strike me even today," Ela Gandhi, 70, who was here for the just concluded Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, told IANS in an interview.

"Most of all this happened in 1945-1946 - the most crucial period in the history of India. He had time for me as a granddaughter and listened to me seriously. I think to take our children seriously in a busy schedule is a big challenge for our generation," Ela Gandhi, who is based in Durban, said.

Ela Gandhi was born to Manilal, the second son of the Mahatma, and Sushila Gandhi in 1940 and grew up in an "ashram" at the Phoenix Settlement, a community farm set by Mahatma Gandhi near Durban.

Her father Manilal returned to South Africa in 1917 to help run the Phoenix Settlement and edit a newspaper, The Indian Opinion.

Mahatma Gandhi founded another experimental community settlement, Tolstoy Farm, 35 km south of Johannesburg on 1,100 acres of land. Ela Gandhi wants to revive the Tolstoy Farm as a Gandhian retreat.

"The farm was destroyed in a fire during an anti-India protest in 1985. The farm has been rebuilt and a lot of people are settled on the land during 1985-1995. The land, however, fell in an area designated for African people.

"The farm does not have as much land as before (because most of it is inhabited by African people who faced a land crunch in the urban areas). It is now a historical monument rebuilt with government support," she said.

She points out that Indians have been in focus in South Africa since last year when the country celebrated the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the first indentured Indian workers to the country in 1860.

"Last year, we commemorated three things as Indians in South Africa. First, we are truly South Africans, united in our participation in the struggle against apartheid, we are united with all patriotic South Africans in our allegiance to the Freedom Charter of 1955. which is based on the philosophy, 'I am because you are' which urges everyone to come out to act to better the lives of its people.

"We need to address initiatives that will tell the stories of all races of South Africa. Many outstanding leaders emerged from the struggle," Gandhi said.

The diminutive and genial granddaughter of Gandhi, who is back in India after a year, feels "India has changed a lot in the last one year".

"The air is cleaner. India has managed to control its air pollution from last year to this year. I found it difficult to breathe last year but this year, there is definitely a change in the atmosphere," Ela Gandhi told IANS.

"Everything has to be thought in terms of billions. With us in South Africa, it is always in millions. The size (of India) is mind boggling for us and every issue has to be placed in perspective of that size, of the people - but despite that India has progressed in almost every way," Gandhi said.

A freedom activist in her own right, Ela Gandhi was honoured with the Padma Bhushan by the government of India in 2007 for her efforts to revive and perpetuate the legacy of the Mahatma in South Africa.

A peace activist, Gandhi was under house arrest for several years for taking part in the anti-apartheid movement and then served as the member of parliament in South Africa from 1994-2004.

"My house arrest affected me in many ways, but it could not chain my thoughts and worlds. I spoke to people," she said.

Her striking resemblance to her grandfather adds to the rich Gandhian legacy that sits naturally on her shoulders.

South Africa is finally changing, she said. "Now there is a serious effort to foster unity. But 300 years of disunity cannot change in 10-17 years.

"India is evincing lot of interest in South Africa. It is interesting because India and South Africa share a lot in common - both the nations have same kind of poverty, oppression and suffering that third world countries face," Gandhi said.






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